26 October 2012

The Road to the Dead Sea

After two rather exhausting days in Petra we were ready for a good float in the Dead Sea. However rather than going straight there we decided to take a longer route and enjoy some of Jordan's other historical points. First stop; Al-Karak.

Upper bailey

Lower bailey reconstructed
I was pretty excited to visit Al Karak (or Kerak). For one thing, it was another castle for Sarah to tick off her 12 in 2012 list. For me, I've always been interested in the Crusades although from an admittedly more romantic Robin Hood, Orlando Bloom movie aspect.

Somewhat more acceptable stairs

The church. It's about as big as it looks.

While it was a functioning castle, Kerak saw many masters and many times with the city to which it belongs having been inhabited since the Iron Age. While only in Crusader hands for 46 years during the twelfth century, its role as one of the largest Crusader strong holds in the Levant is still very significant because of its control over the caravan route between Damascus and Egypt and the pilgrimage route between Damascus and Mecca.

Fossils embedded in the castle walls
Also not nearly as fun as a Harry Potter castle, it was nonetheless pretty interesting. An unofficial tour guide attached himself to us and after initial hesitation, we decided just to go with it. It ended being a good choice. He spoke pretty decent English and lead us around the grounds and through the tunnels and chambers of the castle, explaining what the various rooms were. He also assured us that the castle's former residents were not midgets; we (even Sarah) just had to duck under doorways because excavation didn't go all they down to the original floor level :)

Centuries old kitchen
My only argument with our guide was that he did give us the power tour; so I did not have enough time to readjust my camera settings every time we went in and out. Although in the end I suppose it wasn't that big of a deal since, aside from the kitchen shot above, most of the chambers were empty and uninteresting to just look at.

A horse would never have fit under that opening
Walking through this particular castle did kind of crush my romantic dreams of living in one though; at least one of this medieval design. Obviously since it was a strong hold, windows that were more than mere arrow slits were few and far in between. Aside from that though; chambers were small, corridors and stairways narrow, and the rooms an unending maze I cannot imagine being able to find my way through. Maybe I just needed to not be a servant and assume that those of high birth would have airy chambers.

Because obviously I wouldn't be a servant.


Our next stop was to the city of Madaba; one of the few in Jordan with a large Christian population. Madaba's main industry is tile and mosaic making and it's biggest draw is the sixth century mosaic map showing Jerusalem as the center of the world. Unearthed 1864, during, one assumes, the construction for the 19th century Saint George Greek Orthodox church in which it resides, the mosaic was once a clear map with 157 captions (in Greek) of all major biblical sites from Lebanon to Egypt. The mosaic once contained more than 2 million pieces, only 1/3 of the whole now survives.

6th cent mosaic map
And while the map was pretty cool I'm afraid that I didn't much bother with a lot of pictures of it, preferring to photograph the church itself.

I love Orthodox churches. They're so very colorful and I was happy to get the opportunity to snap a few pictures. My experience with Eastern European Orthodox churches is that they are usually no photography zones.

Also I think it's interesting that despite the schism that split the Catholics and the Orthodox, one of the things that remains similar is art. While European Christian art tends toward a more Renaissance style; the Byzantine style used in much of Orthodox iconography is still very common in Catholic iconography as well.

Our third and final stop on the way to relaxation was at Mount Nebo; the final resting place of Moses. Having missed the Tomb of Aaron at Petra and sitting through the interminable 10 Commandments probably as many times as I am years old...I was really intrigued to see where Charlton Heston, er, Moses, ended his journey when God forbade his entrance to the Promised Land.

More mosaics
The cathedral at the top of the mount is still under construction. As such the mosaic floors that have been uncovered are being held in tents until such time as the cathedral is completed and they can be moved into it.

Rolling stone used as a door

Despite the temptation it offered, I did not try to see if I could move the rolling stone to test the viability of whether or not any of Jesus' followers could in fact have got Him out of His tomb.

Aaron's snake wrapped staff used to cure people of snake bite

Soon to be cathedral on Mount Nebu
While a representative sculpture of Aaron's staff (because no that's not the real one above) stands close to the church, I was told that that the actual staff was planted down there by that tree so that all may gaze upon it an be cured.

View from the mount
RANDOM GUY: Have you seen Aaron's staff and the place he planted it?

ME: Well I saw the staff thingy...

RANDOM GUY: He planted it right down there by that tree (pointing down the slope).

ME: Ahh, which tree?

RANDOM GUY: That one right there (ubiquitously jabbing his finger).

ME: Oh, oh yeah of course; that tree. Thank you.

Your guess as to which tree is 'that tree' is as good as mine.
Marker commemorating a visit by JP II in 2000
His Holiness John Paul II visited Mount Nebo in 2000 and this monument was put in place to commemorate his visit. I love JP II, I really do...but this thing is just further proof that I neither 'get' nor really have any use for modern 'art'.

Up next...do witches really float; or the Dead Sea!!!

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